Energy master plan meets county’s pledge

More than two years ago, when the Mesa County commissioners first announced plans to develop an energy master plan, they made it clear they weren’t aiming to add another layer of government regulation to the state and federal rules already in effect for oil and gas drilling.

That hasn’t satisfied some local residents, who wanted the county to adopt its own drilling rules along the lines of what a handful of other counties have produced. But, with the master plan completed just this month, the county has accomplished what the commissioners said they wanted to do.

First, the master plan provides county maps that identify areas of geologic and aesthetic interest that could be problems for drillers. The Web site on which they are listed allows drilling companies to examine places where they hope to drill and to anticipate potential difficulties based on those areas of interest.

Second, it provides a framework for the county to offer more meaningful comment to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as the state agency considers applications for drilling permits within Mesa County. And it presents an opportunity for county officials to work with the state and drilling companies to address potential problems identified through the maps.

What it doesn’t do is create a set of county mandates that drilling companies must follow, nor does it establish a county enforcement protocol related to drilling.

There are several reasons for not doing so.

One is that there remains a dispute over exactly what a county may regulate with respect to drilling. It is clear under state law that counties don’t have the right to prohibit drilling in certain areas or reject drilling permits. Those decisions on state and private land fall exclusively to the state Oil and Gas Commission. On federal lands, they rest ultimately with the federal agencies that oversee those lands.

And, while some counties have attempted to regulate things like truck traffic related to drilling and well distances from houses, court decisions have made it clear that authority is very limited.

But, even more importantly, the Mesa County commissioners said from the outset that they didn’t want to add another layer of bureaucracy for drilling, especially when the state was in the process of updating and substantially increasing the scope of its rules.

The fact that those state rules are being implemented just as the natural gas industry is facing its worst downturn in more than two decades have made them even more controversial than they already were.

The county commissioners pledged more than two years ago to develop an energy master plan very much like what has ultimately been produced, and two of those commissioners were re-elected just last year by promising to hold true with the original idea for the master plan.

That may not satisfy some people. But the commissioners can’t be faulted for doing exactly what they said they would do. 


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